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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Security Planners Building Fortress Utah for Olympics

Terrorism: Official says safety expenditures will be nearly triple that for Atlanta Summer Games.

January 11, 2002|RICHARD A. SERRANO and JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The federal government expressed confidence Thursday in the safety of the Winter Olympics as authorities continued to heavily fortify Salt Lake City to protect against the possibility of terrorist attack.

Government agencies are spending about $300 million for security and safety during next month's Games. The money will pay for F-16 fighter jets in the skies and thousands of National Guard troops on the streets. It will be used to beef up patrols at the sporting events, build fences around the Olympic Village at the University of Utah, and operate metal detectors and other screening devices at every entrance and exit.

Federal officials Thursday said they were confident that two years of planning, along with additional scrutiny after the September attacks, would keep the 17-day event, which begins Feb. 8, trouble free.

"I believe one of the safest places on the globe from the beginning to the end of February will be Salt Lake City," said Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge after touring the security network in Salt Lake City and meeting with Olympic security officials Thursday.

But he also cautioned that, even with all of the planning and the work of 60 different federal, state and local agencies, "there's no guarantee it is a fail-safe system."

He added that the large security expenditure, nearly three times the amount spent for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, is well worth it.

"There's no specific information about the Olympics being a target," he said. "But the fact is it's an international stage where the world will be watching."

The White House was equally confident.

"We are well prepared for any contingency," the Bush administration said in a statement released here by Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

"We have applied the lessons learned from the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics," Fleischer said. "Following the attacks of Sept. 11, a thorough reevaluation was performed to close any gaps that remain. Air security was stepped up, entrance to venues made more stringent and some non-competition sites made more secure.

While the heightened safety measures and other precautions are designed to wrap the city and slopes in a tight security net, officials hope it does not intrude on the spirit of the Games and the activities of athletes and spectators.

Mitt Romney, president of the organizing committee, said in a recent interview that "compared to Atlanta it's a huge step forward" in security.

In 1996, about $110 million was spent on safety in Atlanta, and there was no single security team leader. A bomb was detonated during a late-night gathering, killing one woman was injuring 100 people. Survivalist Eric Robert Rudolph, named as the prime suspect in the bombing, was never captured.

This year, with the government contributing an added $55 million after Sept. 11, security is being headed up by the Secret Service. That is because after Atlanta, then-President Clinton ordered that security be coordinated and supervised under one agency for major public events such as the Olympics.

But if there is a terrorist attack, officials said, the FBI would investigate the matter and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be brought in to help with the aftermath.

"We will have more military personnel and law enforcement at the Games," Romney said. But the intention, he has said on many occasions, is not to create "an armed camp."

There are 20 separate venues in Salt Lake City for the various contests, spread out over a 6,000-square-mile area, and all will be watched over by about 10,000 security personnel.

The skies over the region will be heavily patrolled by military jets from a fighter wing at nearby Hill Air Force Base.

The Federal Aviation Administration has instituted a no-fly zone, nicknamed the Olympic Ring, to cover a 45-mile radius extending from Salt Lake International Airport. Non-military flights will not be allowed in the ring during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, which end Feb. 24. Also, an array of flights, from hot-air balloons to crop dusters and gliders, will not be permitted there during the Games.

The Utah Olympic Public Safety Command announced additional airspace restrictions Thursday that include a 24-hour ban on anything other than emergency service aircraft over nine Olympic venues for the duration of the Games. The edict is meant to affect private aircraft mainly, with commercial flights able to fly above the 18,000-foot restricted ceiling.

During the Olympics, only commercial and cargo flights will be allowed to land in Salt Lake City. Other air traffic bound for Salt Lake City will be required to land first at nearby "gateway airports," where security checks and inspections will be conducted.

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